Category Archives: Science

Our Impact on the Earth

“Mother Nature is not happy right now and she’s trying to tell us, in many ways,” says Kimberly Prather, Professor of Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography at UC San Diego.

New weather patterns and events are causing concern but how do we know these changes are caused by human activity? Climate scientists are looking at trends over time to determine our impact on the planet.

Prather discusses recent CAICE studies aimed at advancing our understanding of how the oceans influence human and planetary health including novel experiments being conducted in a unique ocean-atmosphere simulator.

Watch — How Do We Know Humans are Impacting the Health of Our Planet? – Exploring Ethics

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UCSD Pascal

Starting in 1974, Kenneth Bowles – who at the time directed UC San Diego’s Computing Center – began to adapt the computer language Pascal for use on so-called “microcomputers,” precursors of today’s PCs. His primary interest at the time was a programming language that would allow students to work individually on projects without waiting their turn to do batch processing on the mainframe. But Bowles also foresaw the value of portable software that would allow programmers to write something once and run it anywhere. His solution was pseudo-code – p-code for short – an intermediate language to run on each machine and serve as a uniform translator.

Since most of his fellow computer-science faculty members were involved in more theoretical research, Bowles turned instead to students to fulfill his dream. He recruited one graduate student, Mark Overgaard, and a handful of undergraduates. At one point or another, more than 70 students were involved in the UCSD Pascal project, doing everything from writing code to shipping floppy disks to research centers around the world (for a token $15 royalty fee). In the early 1980s, the University of California sold rights to the technology to SofTech Systems, which tried but failed to convince IBM to adopt UCSD Pascal as the core operating system of its first personal computers. (Bill Gates’ MS-DOS won the IBM contract.)

Bowles gained world renown for initiating and leading this project that culminated in UCSD Pascal influencing many aspects of computing that are now ubiquitous, including modern PCs and Macs as well as Sun Microsystem’s Java language, which incorporates p-code.

Mark Overgaard and other alumni who worked on the ground-breaking language for what would later be called the personal computer gathered in recently to mark the 30th anniversary of the computer language and reminisce about the influence and legacy that Kenneth Bowles had on computing, teaching, and their lives and careers.

Watch — UCSD Pascal: Celebrating the Life and Work of Kenneth Bowles

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Searching for Autism in our Social Brain

All animals need to know and communicate with their own, so evolution has developed in every brain the ways we all recognize and socialize with each other.

But while other brains are social – no other brain is as social, or can do what the human brain can – and as far as science knows – it also seems that no other brain can suffer from conditions like autism. Are these two fortunes somehow linked?

That is a question that many are asking, including Alysson Muotri’s lab at the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. They are using brain organoids to unravel this mystery, but where do they start looking for the root causes of these conditions?

Enter Katerina Semendeferi, noted biological anthropologist, whose experience conducting neuroanatomical comparisons of our primate predecessors, as well as typical and atypical human neuroanatomy, is helping to focus the search for causes of atypical behavioral conditions like autism and Williams Syndrome. Her work has pointed to neuroanatomical differences, on scales from whole brain structures, down to individual neurons and the genetics of neurodevelopment.

She reveals what she has found, and how this helps the Muotri Lab’s studies with brain organoids in the search for autism in our social brains.

Watch — Searching for Autism in our Social Brain.

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Impact of Early Life Deprivation

Unlike most other animals, much of human brain development and maturation occurs after birth, a process that continues into early adulthood. This unusual pattern allows for greater influences of environment and culture on the emergence of the adult mind.

This series of programs from the recent CARTA symposium addresses the interactive contributions of nature and nurture in this process, ranging from experiments by ancient monarchs and lessons from “feral” children of various kinds, to the follow-up on Romanian orphans.

Distinguished speakers address comparative and neurobiological issues which likely played a key role in the origins of the human species and in the evolution of distinct features of our minds.

Browse more programs in Impact of Early Life Deprivation on Cognition: Implications for the Evolutionary Origins of the Human Mind.

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Editing the Code of Life

You may not know what clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats means, but when you see or hear the word CRISPR it all takes on new meaning, thanks to the efforts of UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, who developed this revolutionary method of genomic editing.

Her work has literally changed the world with her research, with tremendous benefits for the future of humankind and the planet.

The discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering technology has changed human and agricultural genomics research forever. This genome-editing technology enables scientists to change or remove genes quickly and with extreme precision. Labs worldwide have changed the course of their research programs to incorporate this new tool, creating a CRISPR revolution with huge implications across biology and medicine.

This talk marks the occasion of Doudna receiving the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s 2019 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest.

Watch — Editing the Code of Life: Into the Future with CRISPR Technology with Jennifer Doudna – 2019 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest

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